This morning, I read an article in the Washington Post on parenting as a member of Generation X by Alison Slater Tate. What struck me forcibly about this article, and what makes it stand out among so many decriers of the Millennials or the Plurals or whatever we’re calling the next generation, is that it shows tremendous awareness of how the conditions of our own childhoods affect how we deal with our children. Tate does a great job of considering the ways in which she does not have models for raising children who have access to social media and a myriad of screens. While most members of Generation X (generally considered as those born between the early 1960s and the late 1970s) grew up with some version of computers and video games (Atari, anyone? Oregon Trail?), the screens were not portable. When they did become portable, though, members of Generation X were the earliest adopters.
This creates the conundrum Tate ponders: Gen Xers may love their gadgets, but they have no models of how to parent with them.
What does this have to do with adulthood? For me, it captures exactly the problem of studying a culture that is undergoing a constant process of technological change and social change. How did parents raised during the Depression figure out how to raise their own children in a time of affluence? How did parents who grew up within a paradigm of free love handle children growing up in an era of AIDS? We adapt how we raise our children to the world that we see emerging around us, feeling it out as we go. They consequently get a not completely fully thought through set of models for how to interact with the world combined with a set of strongly held beliefs (because we instill those in our children, too). Figuring out how to make the two systems integrate with one another results in a set of life-strategies that are part bedrock value and part seat of the pants. Is it so surprising, then, that women in the 21st century would want to ensure they are economically secure in their own careers before seeking marriage? Or that helicopter parents would do so much to try to prevent their children from becoming “slackers”? Thinking about our culture via our historical antecedents is a tremendously useful exercise, and I commend Alison Slater Tate for showing us that side of her experience.